This section provides an overview of Thomas Moir’s record of service and information about where you can do further research about Moir and other Second World War Service Personnel.
Thomas Moir DCM MM
Tom Moir was a single, 23 year-old service station attendant in Hamilton when war broke out in 1939. He enlisted almost immediately and, with five years previous experience in the Territorials, swiftly rose through the ranks to Sergeant.
After a short period of training in New Zealand, he disembarked with the First Echelon of 2 New Zealand Expeditionary Force in Egypt on 12 February 1940. His History Sheet is silent about his progress until the following October, when he was sent to the NZ Artillery Training Unit. It was from here, after a brief spell in hospital, that he was posted to 4 Field Regiment New Zealand Artillery at the end of February 1941.
Moir’s experience of war as a conventional artilleryman lasted for less than three months. In March 1941 Moir’s regiment sailed with the rest of the 2 New Zealand Division to Greece to oppose a threatened German attack. However, within days of the German invasion on 6 April, the Division was ordered to join a general retreat ending in the complete evacuation of the country by the end of the month.
Having destroyed and abandoned all of its vehicles and heavy weapons in Greece, those parts of the Division that were re-assembled in Crete at the beginning of May 1941 were seriously short of equipment. 4 Field Regiment NZA, with almost no artillery, was deployed as infantry. Nevertheless, the Division fought a furious six-day battle against a German air assault on the island which began on 20 May before being ordered to retreat and begin another evacuation on the 29th.
In the chaos of the battle and retreat just under half of the 7,702 New Zealanders engaged on Crete became casualties, including 2,180 who were captured. However, it was not until his regiment had returned to Egypt that Moir was posted as among the missing. It was a disastrous beginning to the war.
Detailed narratives of these two campaigns and the contribution of 4 Field Regiment NZA can be found in the volumes of the New Zealand Official History dealing with Greece, Crete and 2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery. A list of other books is available in the bibliography of New Zealand Military History.
The remarkable story of what had happened to Moir was not revealed until April 1942 when a small boat containing 9 men led by Sergeant Moir landed close to Sidi Barrani on the North African coast. Having escaped less than a month after his capture, Moir had evaded the Germans for almost a year disguised as a Cretan civilian until he finally managed to commandeer a boat and sail for Egypt. Details of his exploits are recounted in the Official History volume on Crete. The citation for the Distinguished Conduct Medal that he was awarded, and those of others who received this award, can be found in Polaschek, A., The Complete NZ Distinguished Conduct Medal. An account of the New Zealand Recipients (Christchurch: Medals Research Christchurch, 1983), p306. The text of Moir’s DCM citation is not available on his file, but can be seen here: DCM Citation.
In addition, an account of Moir’s escape and life on Crete as an evader, made shortly after his return to Egypt, is held at Archives New Zealand in Wellington under reference WAII Series1. DA 4477.22/14.
On his return to Egypt, Moir was recruited for ‘special duty’ by the Cairo branch of MI9, the British Intelligence organisation set up to help escapers and evaders reach Allied lines. He was convinced that there were more Allied servicemen in hiding on the island and volunteered to return. MI9 were keen to recruit former prisoners for this work as they had an intimate knowledge of local conditions and if recaptured had a good chance of passing as ordinary escapers.
Moir was landed on Crete in March 1943 and by the following June had arranged for the evacuation of 51 soldiers from the island, although he was himself recaptured. Moir’s gallantry and resourcefulness on this occasion were duly recognised in the further award of the Military Medal in 1946. The full text of his MM citation and of others awarded to New Zealanders during the Second World War is available at Archives New Zealand in Wellington under reference WAII Series 1. DA 409.2/2. Copies of these citations are also available for purchase from The National Archives website in the United Kingdom. Unusually, the text of Moir’s MM Citation is also available on his file and can be viewed here: MM citation.
Excellent accounts of life on Crete for New Zealand and Australian escapers and evaders, which include further details about Moir, are provided in the recent books by Sean Damer and Ian Frazer, On the Run. Azac escape and evasion in enemy-occupied Crete (Auckland: Penguin, 2006); and Murray Elliot, Vasili: the Lion of Crete (Auckland: Century Hutchinson, 1987).
Although Moir attempted at least one further escape, he spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of the Germans before final liberation in May 1945. After being flown to Britain, he finally returned to New Zealand on 4 August 1945 and was swiftly demobilised. Further details about Moir, MI9, conditions for Prisoners of War and the organisation in the United Kingdom set up to rehabilitate and repatriate NZ prisoners are available in the Prisoners of War volume of the Official History.
After a brief period as an army reservist, Thomas Moir DCM MM was finally discharged from all further military service obligations on 29 April 1947. A note on his file records that he died in 1975.